Young Britons flock east to answer India's call-centre crisis

In a remarkable reversal, the subcontinent's telesales firms are eagerly recruiting British labour to fill a skills shortage

An army of British workers is being recruited to staff India's vast network of call centres because of a shortage of suitable candidates on the subcontinent.

In a remarkable reversal of the outsourcing that has seen thousands of jobs lost in the UK, telesales operations are looking to fill a skills gap in the east with young Britons willing to work on Indian wages.

And they are eagerly taking up the challenge. Both recent graduates and those with experience of working in British call centres are flocking to sign up for jobs in Bombay, Delhi and Bangalore that pay just £350 a month.

It might not sound like much, but many are finding that they can earn enough to live on for six months or a year before heading off travelling. Indeed, a stint in the call centres followed by a period mellowing out on Goa's beaches or touring the palaces of Rajasthan is becoming the fashionable way for single young Britons to spend a gap year.

However, with surveys suggesting that India's telesales industry will be short of more than 120,000 employees over the next two years, many of the newcomers are expected to stay on.

The problem has arisen because while millions of Indians aspire to work in the call centres, managements are becoming more particular about whom they hire. This follows complaints from callers in the UK about staff being unable to understand them.

There has also been a high attrition rate in many of the centres, as Indians became fed up with punishing hours and abuse from callers.

That has not put off young Britons, though. The clamour for jobs in India has reached such a level that agencies have been set up to place them with Indian firms.

One is Launch Offshore, founded by Tim Bond. "People are desperate to sample a slice of another way of life," Mr Bond said. His firm has close to 100 workers in India and expects to place more than 200 next year. Those who sign up are given flights out and accommodation as well as Indian wages.

Among the first to land in the subcontinent was Kenny Rooney, a 28-year-old from Livingston in Scotland. He had worked in a call centre at home, but after nine months in India says he does not want to return. "This is an incredible country," he said, speaking from Bombay. "I have had a brilliant time and met people from all over the world."

Further down the west coast is Pune, a hub of the call-centre industry. Ian Hussey, a 20-year-old business studies student at Sheffield Hallam University, recently began working there. "Doing the work from the bottom up, you learn about the people and the company. It's great."

Young Britons of Indian origin are also finding the jobs offer them a chance to rediscover their roots. Among them is Hasmita Patel, who is also working in Pune. "This has been the best thing I've ever done," said Ms Patel, from Leicester. "It has really allowed me to see the country and get to know people. I've learned so much about myself."

Those operating the centres are delighted by the newcomers. "The cultural fit of the British works wonders. They are very enterprising. They tell me about how we can enhance what we are doing here, what we can share," said Sukaya Katoch, head of training at Pune call centre GTL.

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